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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Muslim officer appeals ruling

Kimberlie Webb has been a Philadelphia police officer since 1995 and a follower of the Islamic faith for just as long.

But since 2003, the 35th District officer has been embroiled in a legal battle over her right to wear a khimar, a traditional head scarf worn by Muslim women, while in uniform.

Webb, 46, filed discrimination claims against the city with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2003 after the department suspended her for wearing the headdress while on duty.

The EEOC sided with her and in 2005, she sued the city in federal court, citing discrimination. But in June, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed her claims before trial after reviewing briefs from each side.

This week, two lawyers - Jeffrey Pollock and Seval Yildirim - filed appeals on her behalf, saying Webb never had her day in court.

Several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are now backing her, too.

"We want to reverse and remand the decision," said Pollock, an attorney for Fox Rothschild who is handling the case pro bono. "Kim should be treated equally."

Richard Feder, chief deputy city solicitor, said he hadn't received Webb's brief yesterday and couldn't comment.

However, in arguments, filed in court documents, the city has stated that the khimar is inconsistent with the uniform and various grooming requirements for officers and could cause them potential harm while on the job.

Webb converted to Islam in 1995, the same year she became a cop, but said she always removed the scarf before working her graveyard shift.

But in 2003, Webb said she saw Muslim male officers growing beards and decided that she could wear her headdress.

Wearing beards was in violation of the department's dress code until the policy was changed in 2002 following a ruling in federal court.

"I went three days in a row when they asked me to remove it," she said. "I refused, and they sent me home."

When she wore the khimar again, Webb said, her superiors threatened to fire her. [Link]

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